After judge erupts, plaintiff lawyer in Roundup case at trial pleads for no sanctions

By Ann Maher | Feb 26, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO - Facing sanctions for conduct during opening arguments Monday in the high profile case against Monsanto's Roundup, plaintiff attorney Aimee Wagstaff is asking the judge to hold off.

Wagstaff filed a brief Monday night saying sanctions against her would be "unfair and improper" as she did not act in bad faith.

She argued that she did her best to comply with the court's evidentiary rulings, some of which were complex and ambiguous, and some entered on the eve of trial.

In pre-trial proceedings, District Judge Vince Chhabria had barred attorneys for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman from introducing testimony about Monsanto's alleged manipulation of science and evidence.


Wagstaff  

He split the trial into two parts, indicating he would only allow scientific evidence that might prove a link between the weedkiller and Hardeman's cancer. Claims involving the company's conduct would only be allowed if jurors find that Roundup caused his cancer in the first phase of trial.

Chhabria lashed out at Wagstaff on Monday, saying, “You’ve completely disregarded the limitations that were set upon you...If you cross the line one more time … your opening statement will be over … If I see a single inappropriate thing on those slides, I’m shutting you down,” according to media reports.

Wagstaff's brief filed Monday evening indicates Chhabria entered an order to show cause during a break in her opening arguments.

"The Order allowed only a few hours to respond after the conclusion of today's trial activities," she wrote. "The Order consists entirely of two sentences; it contains no explanation of the basis for the Order, and no articulation of how Ms. Wagstaff violated prior orders regarding the limitations on the subject matter that could be discussed in Opening Statements."

Wagstaff wrote that the admissibility of some evidence yet remains to be determined during trial.

"Simply put, the 'line-drawing' regarding the admissibility of evidence during 'Phase 1' in this case is intricate and sometimes difficult to discern," she wrote. "In fact, the Court acknowledged such today when the Court stated 'it is a difficult line to dance.'"

Wagstaff wrote that she and her team of lawyers "simply did not see the line drawn in the same place that the Court did."

She concluded: "Imposing sanctions based on the confusion surrounding the admissibility of certain evidence in the Phase 1 trial of this matter is unwarranted and extremely prejudicial to Plaintiff. Sanctions would have the potential to permanently tarnish the reputation of Ms. Wagstaff, who did not act in bad faith, and who, at every turn, followed the Court’s instruction without complaint during today’s Opening Statement."

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